Declassified U.S. Documents Reveal Details About Argentina’s Dictatorship

Declassified U.S. Documents Reveal Details About Argentina’s Dictatorship

RIO DE JANEIRO — The assassination squad created by Argentina’s military dictatorship to target dissidents during the 1970s had, like other state programs, its own bureaucratic rules: Employees punched in at 9:30 a.m. and were entitled to a two-hour lunch. They received a $1,000 clothing allowance during their first overseas mission. And they were required to submit expense reports.

Representatives of the ultrasecret directorate, which included intelligence officers from Chile and Uruguay, settled on their next victim through a “majority vote.”

These details of the assassination program, which pursued enemies in the region and in Europe as part of the Cold War intelligence alliance known as Operation Condor, have been revealed in a 1977 Central Intelligence Agency report, part of a trove of newly declassified United States government documents that shed new light on the repressive tactics of military regimes in South America and on American awareness of their actions.

The exchange of more than 7,500 records — which the United States formally delivered to the Argentine government on Friday as part of a deal struck during the final months of the Obama administration — is one of the largest transfers of declassified documents from one government to another.

María Ángeles Ramos, a federal prosecutor who oversees the department handling crimes against humanity, said earlier records declassified by the United States have been valuable in corroborating evidence and identifying new culprits. With about 40 percent of cases still awaiting judgment, she said her team has high hopes the latest batch of records will advance their work.

“These documents will undoubtedly help answer a lot of questions that are still pending,” Ms. Ramos said. “This will continue to bring truth to the victims.”

President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, who is regarded with disdain by many human rights activists focusing on the dictatorship era, expressed hope recently that the new documents will bring more victims a measure of justice.

“They will be essential for there to be justice in past cases, still pending, from one of the darkest periods of Argentina’s history,” he said last March.

The release comes amid a raging debate in neighboring Brazil about its own period of military rule. President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who served in the Army early in his life, last month called on the armed forces to commemorate the 1964 coup that installed a repressive military dictatorship for 21 years.

Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, argued that declassifying sensitive, secret documents earlier than the government ordinarily would, makes a meaningful contribution.

“These documents remind us of the ugly reality of the military coups and the regimes that followed,” he said. Access to them is “the strongest bulwark against the reactionary revisionism that is attempting to paint a pretty picture of the military regimes in the southern cone.”

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